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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Vancouver East (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 63% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions June 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today and present hundreds of petitions from the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals.

The petitioners point out to Parliament that every year hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are brutally slaughtered for their fur in a number of regions. They say that Canada should join the U.S., Australia and the European Union in banning the import and sale of dog and cat fur. They point out that we are the only developed country without such a ban.

I congratulate and thank this group for its hard work and diligence in collecting the thousands of petitions, which I have presented over a number of years in the House. I hope Parliament will pay attention to this issue and take action.

Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act June 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, having listened to the minister's comments, I want him to know that he is completely incorrect when he says that the entire legislature of Yukon supported this bill. I was up there a few weeks ago and spoke on this bill. I met with many people, and I can say that there are members of the legislative assembly in Whitehorse who are very opposed to this bill. They reflected first nations and community concerns, because people believe that this bill would undermine agreements that are already in place.

I would like to ask the minister to withdraw his comment that this bill is supported by, I think he said, the whole legislative assembly. That is simply not true. He can check the record. It is not true.

Vancouver East June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this is an excerpt from Being True to Ourselves by poet Sandy Cameron.

The map we inherited
isn't any good.
The old roads mislead
and the landscape keeps changing.
People are confused
and drift from place to place,
clothes scorched by fire
eyes red with smoke.

The old map tells us
to look for gold
in the city,
so we go to the city
and find the garbage dump.
We need a new map
with new roads
and a new destination.

Some people fear a new map, and
they cling to the old one
like flies to fly paper....

I don’t have a new map,
so I write stories.
The stories draw lines
dig holes
and above all, remember....

...And in this harsh world draw your breath in pain
To tell my story.

Hamlet said to Horatio.

“I seem not to speak
the official language,” the poet
Adrianne Rich said, so
she created an unofficial language,
the language of the heart.

It has been an honour to serve the people of Vancouver East and the NDP for the past 18 years.

Committees of the House June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health has some very strongly held views, but I wonder if she could comment on whether or not this report was actually balanced in its views. As she knows, the name of the report was the “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”, so there was no intent from the beginning to actually look at, say, medical marijuana and what benefits there have been, what research needs to be done. I am sure she is aware that Veterans Affairs actually does dispense or allow medical marijuana as part of its program to help veterans.

I am curious to know the member's response as to why government members refused to include a recommendation that would have allowed research into medical marijuana. All of the research that the recommendations speak about are only associated to risk and harm, as opposed to any of the benefits that we believe have come about. I wonder if she could tell us why they were so biased that they refused to allow research on medical marijuana to be included in their government report.

Committees of the House June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the hon. member for Vancouver Centre and her contribution on the HESA committee. I know she is very knowledgeable on this issue, and I thank her for that.

We had a Liberal government and there was a commitment to move to decriminalization. I remember it was in a Speech from the Throne. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had that commitment. A bill came forward. I was the NDP critic on it, so I remember it very well.

It went through second reading. It even went to committee. In fact, we were at the point where we had the then-minister of justice Martin Cauchon agreeing with us on an amendment that the bill would be amended to ensure that the estimated 600,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for the personal use of marijuana—that he would agree to that.

Then all of a sudden, it came to a crashing halt. The government decided not to proceed with the bill.

We actually did have that opportunity. I am wondering if the member could tell us why the bill did not proceed, was dropped at that time and never came back.

Committees of the House June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, that is the fourth time that the member has not gone through the Chair. I would hope someone with his experience would know the respectful way to debate in this House.

Yes, I am somewhat familiar with what is going on in Colorado. In fact, I was there a year ago as part of a conference, where we heard directly from Colorado officials from the Governor's office. They have a special law enforcement unit only for marijuana that was very impressive, so I do have some knowledge.

The fact is that their approach for legalization has only been in operation for about a year, so I am not surprised to hear that there are still issues that they are working out.

However, let me say this: the member is cherry-picking. I am sure that there have been youths who have been harmed by marijuana, but let us put that in relation to prescription drugs and the number of people who have died from so-called legal prescription drugs. This is all a relative debate.

Rather than cherry-picking and saying that this happened to two youths or whatever it might be, as tragic as that is, let us learn from what is happening in Colorado or in Washington State. Let us focus on the need to have a made-in-Canada public-health-based approach to marijuana use that has the proper oversight and regulations to actually protect our young people while ensuring that there is not criminalization and that we bring forward a modernization of our law as it pertains to marijuana. Why would the government not do that?

Committees of the House June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the clarity with which my colleague has put forward this issue. He is quite right. There is a sense of desperation that we see from government members. They are clinging to the vestige of a criminalization and prohibitionist policy, even though they know that it was a failed policy many decades ago when it came to alcohol. There is a sort of blindness to what they are doing. That is very evident.

To answer the question, a number of witnesses came forward and made it very clear that we need to have more research. We have some evidence now about medical marijuana, but we need to have more evidence-based research. However, the problem is that it is not going to happen with this government, because it has already said in its report that it would only allow research based on risks and harms. Therefore, it is a completely one-sided debate.

We have to reject that, just as we hopefully will reject the government so that it will not be here any longer and we can actually move forward with an intelligent public health-based approach to marijuana and many other issues.

Committees of the House June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. I would draw her attention to the report from the standing committee within which the NDP minority report is contained. This is an official response from the NDP, and its recommendation is very clear: we are calling for an independent commission to institute an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.

I would encourage the member to read the reports. If we look at the Liberal minority report, we see that it uses the word “explore”.

The NDP has been very clear about the direction and the steps that are needed, based on public health and public interest. We need to have an independent commission and we need to have the guidance to Parliament to institute an appropriate regulatory regime. I think that should be very clear to her.

Committees of the House June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question. It is a very good and thoughtful question. She is correct that there are numerous medical dispensaries for marijuana, and probably most of them are in my riding of Vancouver East.

The reality is that in Vancouver, local law enforcement has basically not enforced whatever laws it could against these dispensaries, nor has the City of Vancouver, in terms of zoning or licensing, because they are not considered to be harmful.

The member may not be aware that recently the City of Vancouver made an announcement that it wants to provide a proper licensing and regulatory approach to these medical dispensaries. It was very interesting to hear the response from the Minister of Health in Ottawa, who is so far away from what is going on in Vancouver. Of course, her response was nothing surprising: it was no, no, no, this is not going to be allowed to happen.

The fact is that in the city of Vancouver, elected officials, the police department, and other agencies understand that it is much better to have oversight, licensing, and a regulatory approach to these dispensaries to make sure they are operating properly. That is something, again, that is based on public interest.

Therefore, yes, there is a lot going on in Vancouver, and I expect as with other issues, Vancouver will lead the way on this and will be able to bring in proper oversight and a proper licensing system.

Committees of the House June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am glad we are having this debate today on the report from the Standing Committee on Health, which was produced in October 2014, because it is a very important subject in terms of public policy as it relates to marijuana. The first thing I want to say is that the report we are debating is unfortunately completely biased.

The name of the report is “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”. We can see from its title that in looking at the subject of marijuana, the majority of the members of the committee, the government members, were only interested in building a political case for themselves to show what they believe to be risks and harms. From day one, the study and the report were very suspect, because they were actually not based on evidence and a scientific approach in terms of how we should be conducting studies by standing committees of Parliament.

We heard from a number of witnesses. It is regrettable that the government members tried to prevent witnesses from coming forward who hold evidence-based views on marijuana based on a health approach. It was very difficult to get that point of view across in the committee. However, I am pleased to say that we were able to get some witnesses who gave us a very balanced picture of what is taking place in terms of public policy. I would say that the approach that was put forward, and certainly the approach the NDP favours, is an approach that focuses on health promotion and on public education and safety. We need to have an approach to marijuana that is more balanced. That is something that did not result from the study and this report.

We produced what is called a dissenting or minority report for this study. Our number one recommendation to the Government of Canada was that it is essential to pursue a public health approach to marijuana that is focused on education, and where necessary, treatment and harm reduction. This is something we heard from witnesses. It is something that is sensible.

We understand that there is a broad consensus now in this country that the Conservatives' approach of a war on drugs and prohibition has been a catastrophic failure economically, socially, and through the justice system. Giving people criminal records, having a zero-tolerance policy, and denying the reality of what is going on in terms of marijuana in this country is something that is producing more harm than good. That is the Conservatives' approach.

We have a different approach in the NDP. It is based on focusing on public health and health promotion.

We heard from a number of witnesses, like Dr. Evan Wood, Dr. Tony George, the Canadian Public Health Association, Philippe Lucas, and Dr. Perry Kendall. These are all eminent doctors and scientists who have actually studied this issue, and they all told us that a public health approach to the non-medical use of drugs is necessary, and in fact critical, to minimize the risks and the harms.

I spoke a bit earlier and questioned the minister about the fact that very limited research has gone on. We heard at the committee that approximately 50% of people who use medical marijuana do so to relieve chronic pain. This came from Dr. Perry Kendall, who was a very credible witness. We also heard from Veterans Affairs Canada that the department pays for medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD in veterans. The witnesses all said that we need to have more research on medical marijuana, but it has been very difficult to do so because of the approach of the government.

I find it contradictory that on the one hand, the Conservatives are willing to encourage research to look at risks and harms, yet there is not one recommendation in the majority government report that calls for research on medical marijuana and some of the benefits that have already been shown. So much for a parliamentary study. It is actually shameful that it is so biased and prejudicial.

We believe that we need have more research done. We believe that we need to take a broad public health approach. In fact, what we think should happen, and this is one of our recommendations in our report, is that we should:

Establish an independent commission with a broad mandate, including safety and public health, to consult Canadians on all aspects of the non-medical use of marijuana and to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.

Why do we come to this conclusion? We come to this conclusion because it is very clear that the current unregulated market has been a complete failure. It produces violence, stigma, and, in fact, control by organized crime. It is very clear.

I think most Canadians understand that criminalization is not the answer. In fact, criminalization produces a huge amount of harm in and of itself. The reality is that whether the Conservatives can see it or not, they know that it is there. It is very clear that they politically choose to deny it. Our marijuana laws need to be modernized, and they need to be based on evidence and public health principles.

This is something that is taking place throughout the world. We only have to look south of the border to see that different states, whether it is Colorado or Washington, are taking a much more realistic public health approach to marijuana based on a balance of prevention, public health, well-being, harm reduction, community safety, and public education.

That is the kind of approach we need in Canada. It is something the government has politically decided it wants to reject. It simply wants to play a little political game. All it talks about is youth. I have not heard anyone in this House or any witness who came forward say that they think marijuana should be available to youth. In fact, that is precisely the reason we need a regulatory approach; it is so we can set clear rules as to where use can take place, and it should be adults who look at issues of commercialization. We need to look at issues of distribution, just as they have done in some of the states south of the border.

The government's sort of political mantra on this focuses on youth. There are issues around the use of any substance, whether it is alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance, but that is only part of the question we are looking at. I would argue strenuously that a regulatory approach, a public health approach, would enable us to have much better coordination and an overview of what we need to do in terms of ensuring that youth do not have access to substances, whether it is marijuana or anything else, that are harmful.

It is staring us in the face that this is the classic example of the response of the Conservative government to an issue. It is tougher laws and bringing in mandatory minimum sentences. That is what it did for drug crimes. However, everything we see before us is telling us that criminalization of drug use, whether it is marijuana or other substances, is actually producing more harm.

It is abundantly clear that what is needed is a public health approach, which has been adopted by the medical health officers across the county and has been supported by many major cities across the county. Certainly the city of Vancouver has led the way on this issue.

I find it astounding that, still today, as this report comes forward, the Conservatives are using this as a political hammer. I want to say that I do not think it is going to work. It is a failure.

Canadians actually understand what this debate is about. Canadians understand that criminalization is something that has failed in this country. The so-called war on drugs, just as we saw with Prohibition in the 1930s, actually produces more crime and violence. That is what we are facing in Canada today. We can look at what has been happening in Surrey or Vancouver. We can see the gang violence and the violence that comes about as a result of prohibition.

In this party, we would rather be on the side of evidence. We would rather be on the side of reality. We would rather be on the side of a proper regulatory approach that produces a coherent response, based on public policy and public health, to the issue of marijuana.

The Conservatives can rant all they want and try to create a black and white situation in which people are either with them or against them, as we have heard so often in the House, but Canadians are not fooled. Canadians know that we need to have these laws modernized. They know that we need to have proper oversight and a regulatory approach that will actually help young people be safer.

We need a regulatory approach that would ensure that we have proper rules, regulations, and guidelines about where marijuana use can take place. These are all very important questions.

I am very proud of the fact that the NDP produced a brief report in the overall Standing Committee of Health report in October. It lays out very clearly the principles and the direction that we believe are absolutely necessary in dealing with the issue of marijuana use in Canada.

To conclude, I will again reiterate that, one, we think it should be pursued as a public health approach; two, we believe that we need to fund research to examine the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana; and three, we call for an independent commission with a broad mandate to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.